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Letters from the Issue of May 13, 2004

South Beach Nightclubs: The Verdict

Velvet ropes? Flashy bling bling? Uninspired music? It's very unhip: In response to Mosi Reeves's "Life After WMC" (May 6), I'm a house DJ from New Jersey who moved here just a couple of months ago. When I first arrived I was excited to go to South Beach nightclubs. I visited a few spots and was not impressed. I don't mean to come off sideways, but I'm 34 years old and have been going to clubs, raves, and warehouse parties for years in the N.Y.C. area. I even promoted and had a killer party that was mentioned in Paper magazine as the Best Tuesday-Night Party in N.Y.C. That was back in 1997.

I'm not trying to step on anyone's toes or tell them how to do things; however, I do see things being done the old-fashioned way, such as the velvet rope shit out front of the club. Trying to get into a club here is very not hip. It's who you know, how you look. If you don't look like a model or a movie star, or if your outfit isn't right, you don't get in.

Does anyone remember that all the dance/electronica music and the scene around it used to be very much underground? Now it's all about money and the "bling bling." I feel that shit is out. If people want to get into a club, let them in. Their money is just as green as anyone else's. Let them wear what they want. SoBe has so much "Look at me! Look at me!" attitude. Being involved in the scene doesn't mean all that stuff. Going to a club is about unity, meeting new people, dancing, and most of all the music. But it seems like everyone in South Beach plays the same kind of music. As a DJ I like to bring new things to people, to educate them on all the different music out there in the world.

Believe me, I'm not labeling myself as the best DJ. I look at myself as just a piece of the puzzle. I simply would like a little more open-mindedness by everyone involved. Just think of all the DJs who were here at the Winter Music Conference. Someone should be booking them, because to me South Beach is not the place to be for the dance-music scene, at least not yet.

Peter Vella

Miami Beach

Live Local Music in Miami: The Verdict

Beautiful on the outside, rotten on the inside: I read Errol Portman's April 29 letter ("Miami: The Town that Snubs the Arts") with great attention and would like to thank him publicly for his attention to this matter. As a jazz musician who was raised in Miami, I can appreciate his comments. Having performed in many cities throughout the United States (New York, New Orleans, Chicago, L.A., San Francisco, and others), I can safely say that Miami is probably one of the worst cities for live local music, particularly jazz.

People here just don't support live music. As a result, most career musicians in Miami survive only because of the tourist industry and private social events. I know many great musicians who live in Miami but never perform here. Most perform outside the city, while others turn to producing or to the recording industry. You hear all this publicity about Miami being the "Latin music capital of the world," but musically speaking, Miami is like a fruit that looks beautiful on the outside but is rotten on the inside.

I think this is largely because the general public is bombarded with music on the radio, all of it recorded with detailed precision. As a result, people have become indifferent to taking a chance on the experience of local music, which is much more raw and organic.

Radio stations like WLVE-FM (93.9), WDNA-FM (88.9), and WLRN-FM (91.3) support local musicians, but you never hear the work of local musicians being played on popular Latin radio. Given that Miami is such a Latin town, Spanish-language radio bears some of the responsibility for the decay of the live local music scene.

In the past twenty years I've seen many live-music venues come and go. Most weekends today it's rare to find more than two or three Miami clubs featuring a local live salsa orchestra. With the massive number of Latins living here, this, to say the least, is bizarre. And jazz? For the most part olvidate (forget it!).

It's no wonder many musicians leave Miami to seek an audience. I enjoy living here, but as a musician I must say that Miami is one sorry place for live local music.

Bobby Ramirez

Kendall  

Reporting from the 511 Traffic Center ...

... this is M-a-r-i-s-a Martin: In The Bitch's rabid critique of WLRN-FM's spring fundraiser ("Density Turns on the Radio," April 29), she failed to spell the traffic reporter's name correctly. That's Marisa (Martin) with an s, not with a t or a z. Marisa with an s spells ssss not zzzz.

Thank you.

Marisa Martin

Miami

The Critic Psychoanalyzed

When she disparages healthful food, she is disparaging herself: Reading Pamela Robin Brandt's recent review of the newest Bites on Wheels store on Biscayne and 68th Street made me sad ("Getting What You Pay For," April 29), not because anything negative she wrote was true or because I fear it will hurt an important business venture in a part of our community that sorely needs it. Rather I was struck by what Ms. Brandt's words revealed about what she looks for in food and, more important, what she looks for from food.

Ms. Brandt had nothing but praise for the Bites on Wheels location, concept, menu, delivery service, prices, and meal plans. Nor did her dissatisfaction have anything to do with how hard this small chain's husband-and-wife team work, along with their staff, to keep the eating public healthy. What she didn't like was the way the food tasted -- admittedly an important, if not the most important, factor in a restaurant review and in a restaurant's success. Her negative opinion about the food should come as no surprise. Ms. Brandt likes to gorge herself on the unhealthful. She admits it. She prefers greasy, fat-laden, fried food. She loves dairy -- cream and cheese. And mayonnaise. She likes Chinese and Italian -- on the same plate no less. Good for her. She's entitled to her preferences. Of course, Bites on Wheels' food is not greasy, fatty, or fried.

Bites on Wheels provides exceedingly fresh, spot-cooked, low-cost meals that are lean, portion-controlled (a mammoth, labor-intensive effort only the largest restaurant chains dare attempt), and anything but unflavorful. Eating at Bites is different. It's supposed to be. It takes desire to eat well, a period of adjustment to learn what food actually tastes like beneath what most of us pour on top. Rather than rely on what normally gives food taste -- fat, salt, and sugar -- Bites makes sure food tastes real. This way of eating is obviously foreign to Ms. Brandt, and thus makes Bites' food inedible.

Indeed, her "winners" reflect more on her state of mind than anything regarding the food. She chose plantains over corn -- one sweet and sugary by nature, the other not soaked in butter or covered in salt. The mashed potatoes appeared "distressingly plain" because they are not infused with cream. The seafood-stuffed baked potato earned her favor only because it was "huge."

An honest review of anything serves an important public function, and Ms. Brandt has written such reviews in the past. Still reviews express but individual viewpoints, and every restaurant is entitled to a bad day now and then. After all, people run restaurants, and people are human, and humans make mistakes. Yet when writers write, and publishers publish, people read, and real people who run real businesses get hurt.

To be sure, a bad review can be devastating. But not for Bites on Wheels. The reason Ms. Brandt's mean-spirited and sarcastic opinion cannot be taken seriously is that, in this instance, she was uniquely unqualified to offer an opinion. Eating at Bites isn't "boring." It's good for you. People who care about their bodies, about the quality of their lives, know the difference. Ultimately the reason Ms. Brandt was ill-equipped to review Bites on Wheels objectively is that, in my opinion, she is averse to treating herself well. Regrettably that is true of lots of people, gluttons for one vice or another, bad-for-you food being just one. In the end, then, the real target of Ms. Brandt's reporting is herself, a victim of her own self-loathing. Given her taste, I don't blame her for preferring Dogma, just up the boulevard (and another terrific new restaurant run by hardworking, open-hearted people willing to take a chance and play a vital role in bringing a dilapidated neighborhood back to life). A Coke and a dog is more her style.

The telltale sign of any great restaurant is the frequency with which its regular customers return, over and again. Before putting pen to paper, Ms. Brandt might have consulted the people who work in her very own building as colleagues, for Bites on Wheels delivers to the New Times office every single day it's open. "Getting what you pay for" is all about what you "expect" for your money. All things considered, and for less than seven dollars per meal, there is simply nowhere better for you to eat than Bites on Wheels.  

H. Scott Fingerhut

Miami

Editor's note: Attorney H. Scott Fingerhut serves as corporate counsel for Bites on Wheels, Inc.

Haiti and the Distressing, Painful Truth

The U.S. government intentionally undermined that poor country's well-being: In reference to Tristram Korten's article "Guns and Haiti" (April 15), I served as part of an emergency fact-finding delegation to Haiti from March 23 through April 2. We 22 delegates consisted of journalists, congressional staff members, clergy, representatives of various organizations, and concerned individuals (like myself). We traveled as volunteers under the auspices of Haiti Reborn and the Quixote Center. Our objective was to make contact with as many diverse organizations and individuals as possible in order to discern the realities of the current situation in this troubled country. To that end we met with the country's new interim prime minister; with representatives of the U.S. Embassy, USAID, and OAS; with leaders and members of various political, "popular," religious, labor, and other organizations; and with many individual citizens.

It was a very intense experience. As always when visiting Haiti (this was my fifth trip), the extreme poverty was painfully evident. But unlike my other trips, the pain of the poverty was overshadowed by the pain of the fear -- fear was palpable in the eyes, and evident in the actions, of nearly everyone we saw. So many Haitians have been killed, tortured, or disappeared. Many others know they are acutely in peril of similar fates as, at 4:00 every afternoon, the names of those selected to be hunted down are read on two radio stations. I will forever live with the deep regret that the name of a man who knowingly risked his safety in order to meet with us was, the next day, added to this list.

But most painful to me, more painful even than the fear and the poverty, was the fact that much of the suffering we saw was the direct result of the policies and actions of my country, the United States. This became all too evident through our interviews. The U.S. is largely responsible for much of the misery in Haiti today because it undermined the credibility of recent Haitian elections (which, in my mind, were vastly more democratic than our most recent presidential election) and withheld essential financial aid, and because it pressured other funding bodies to withhold financial aid. In addition, the U.S. funneled what little aid it did provide not through the elected government but rather through nongovernmental organizations associated with the opposition. The U.S. also failed to support the arrest of some of Haiti's most notorious killers.

Through those and many other means, culminating in a kidnapping/coup d'état of Haiti's democratically elected president and installing in power men who favor U.S. policies, our government has undermined the well-being and sovereignty of the country. Today Port-au-Prince appears to be an occupied city -- heavily armed military men and equipment are everywhere. And overhead, military helicopters circle round and round, even flying without lights during the night.

Our fact-finding mission was, for me, a most distressing experience. But still I see two very strong reasons for believing that a brighter future is possible for Haiti. First is the wonderful spirit of the Haitian people, and second is that we U.S. citizens can become more informed about the situation in Haiti and about our government's involvement there. Then we can bring pressure to bear on our elected officials and demand they change our policies toward Haiti. Our government should support only those polices that will allow Haiti to gain control of and develop its own future.

Nancy Bennett

Santa Fe, New Mexico


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